At the turn of the millennium, Irish architect and entrepreneur Paul O’Grady, 35, never imagined he'd one day be living in Zagreb, Croatia - or that he'd find lasting happiness there.
O’Grady began his career as a successful but unhappy Dublin architect, until he swapped his punishing 12-hour workdays and skyrocketing stress for a less financially rewarding but far more satisfying life in Croatia.
Now the industrious UCD graduate presides over a popular Irish dance school, he runs an events management organization and he moonlights as an English teacher and business trainer. Oh, and he has a book coming out in September.
The Irish have a word for a man like that, two words actually - the first being 'jammy.' But they are often uttered in admiration rather than disdain.
Profiled in The Irish Times this week, O'Grady said: "I qualified in 2001 and was soon doing well with the architecture, but I was miserable. I was cycling from a dull, dark, dank apartment to do a 10 or 12 hour day on projects that I wasn’t really qualified for because the office was taking on too much work. And then I was expected to go to architects' symposiums at the weekend," he said.
"In 2002, it all just popped for me. The Celtic Tiger thing was getting going, there was lots of positivity around, a feeling we could do anything, but I was already feeling burned out."
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"People were making crazy money but paying for it with massive stress and destructive drinking. I didn’t know what I wanted but it wasn’t that – so I said I was off to Europe."
O’Grady flew to Croatia, which he remembered from a student summer exchange, where he started teaching English at a foreign language school in Zagreb. That eventually led to more work as a radio reporter for an English-language service.
Meanwhile, a lively night out with friends turned into an opportunity when he saw just how interested they were in Irish traditional dance.
"I was out with friends and I showed them the Walls of Limerick and they really went for it," O'Grady told the Irish Times. "I saw the potential. That was around October 2005 and, after a few months, we had enough interest for a regular class. Now we have over 100 dancers in two cities."
The Irish Maiden dancing school was born. That helped fuel a surge in interest and participation in Irish culture. There are now four other Irish dance troupes performing in Croatia and 13 bands playing Irish music, according to O’Grady.
"It’s very, very good to be Irish here," he says. "There is definitely an affinity for Irish people and Croats see many similarities in our histories. I am not fantastically talented at anything I do, but the Irish angle certainly makes my business concepts more marketable."
Living with his wife and son in her home village on the idyllic Adriatic peninsula of Istria, O’Grady is thanking his lucky stars that he had the sense to strike out for a new life.